Nagasaki Survivor Tells Story

‘I saw that strikingly intense light in the sky’

New Jersey Herald | August 9, 2010

SPARTA — A bolt of lightning illuminating the sky still manages to instill a fear in Yasuko Ota that’s as fresh as the terror she felt that summer day in Nagasaki, Japan.

“This is because such a light would remind me of the murderous light that I saw 65 years ago,” she said, addressing an audience with the help of a translator at the Sparta United Methodist Church.

“We heard explosions come from above and afar and saw enemy aircraft shining in the sky. The exploding sounds came closer and closer, and we realized they were B-29 bombers,” Ota said. “Then, we saw the planes started to fly low, and we instantly knew that we had to run and hide.”

During the final stages of World War II, by executive order of President Harry S. Truman, the U.S. dropped the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, Aug. 6, 1945. The detonation of “Fat Man” followed over Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

Ota, now 80, is one of 230,000 remaining “Hibakusha,” a Japanese word that literally translates into “explosion-affected people.”

She gave a special presentation to the Sparta United Methodist Church Saturday evening, recounting her experience of the day the bomb dropped.

The visit was organized by the groups New Jersey Peace Action and August 9th Saving Lives Task Force.

At the time, Ota was an eighth-grade student working in a Nagasaki ammunitions factory, 1.3 kilometers — slightly less than a mile — from the epicenter.

Ota and her friend were taking an afternoon break from work, walking around an area of empty houses, abandoned since the war began.

When it was clear the planes would strike, the girls ran into an empty house, but the house was so small they ended up going through a back door and outside.

“When I was about to go back in the house, I saw that strikingly intense light in the sky,” Ota said.

She lost consciousness and was awoken sometime later by the sound of her friend’s cries. The house had collapsed to the ground, and Ota’s legs were buried under the rubble.

“I felt some heat around my feet, and my gut instinct told me that I was being steamed alive by the fire under my feet,” Ota said. “I strained my voice as I yelled, trying to be heard by my mother who was far away from there. I screamed, ‘I am still young! I don’t want to die! Help!’”

Another half hour passed before a stranger dragged her from the rubble.

“The person’s face was bleeding profusely, and his nose was missing. It was impossible to tell what his face had been like before,” she said.

The stranger collapsed after pulling her to safety and told her to run.

Ota, who is now vice president of Nihon Hidankyo, or the Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers, said the Hibakusha were shunned for years after the bomb drop because many of the survivors were disfigured and injured.

People did not know if the sickness caused by the bomb was contagious or if it could be passed on to future children. They did not understand that the area was struck by a nuclear weapon and survivors were suffering from over-exposure to radiation.

Ota went on to have five children, two of whom were still births.

All three of her surviving children were born prematurely at seven months. Two have suffered effects of the radiation, including her oldest son, Kohichi Ota, 60, who attended Saturday’s presentation. He had frequent nosebleeds throughout his grammar school years. Her daughter was born blind and lives in a residential facility outside of Tokyo.

Today, Ota, her son, members of New Jersey Peace Action and August 9th Saving Lives Task Force, will meet with a senior representative at Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-13) office to discuss the proposed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in both countries.

On April 8, the treaty was signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Final approval of the treaty requires a super majority of 67 votes, or approval from two-thirds of the Senate.

“I will never lose hope for a world of peace to come in the future,” Ota said. “The dreadful bombing experience that I had should never be repeated. Now, I appeal to you and to the world that we may all walk together along the road to peace.”

Created: 8/9/2010 | Updated: 8/9/2010

Leave a Reply